mystery & magic

Hi everyone, 

This tiny letter is not so tiny so I won’t say much. Dug up this old picture: 

The beautiful light from my old apartment in Pittsburgh. 

May 28th, 2021

Dear Ethan,

Sometimes I fall into peculiar spells—and the one for this week is that I picked up a calligraphy book at the library and am motivating myself to learn something new. I realized recently that it’s been a while since I gave the unknown a try. So now I’m up at night with an elbow coated in India ink, and wondering where the hell I can find gum arabic. Calligraphy is cathartic, running over the elementary shapes on the tracing pad with my pen. Two metal tines separate and the ink flows between—strong, thick lines—and then, like magic (and honestly, rarely for me), a beautiful spidery line flows out right after. All is right with the world.

I’ve been thinking of the following poem lately by T.S. Elliot, published in 1943 (the first poem of “The Four Quartets”): 

            What might have been is an abstraction
            Remaining a perpetual possibility 
            Only in a world of speculation.
            What might have been and what has been
            Point to one end, which is always present.
            Footfalls echo in the memory 
            Down the passage which we did not take
            Towards the door we never opened 
            Into the rose garden. My words echo
            Thus, in your mind. 

The poem reminded me of a friend. It also kind of made me laugh at myself for how I’m playing adult, but then, slowly, actually becoming it. I had a student tell me recently (actually, the one who pointed out I haven’t learned anything new) that she was watching two beautiful women run across a field one day and she told her friend, woah. They must be in college. Do you think we’ll ever look like that? Her friend replied—We ARE in college! 

She retold this story to me, cheeks burning, and I’m reminded of the experiences we’ve lost this past year, and the reckoning which is still to come. 

In many interactions I’ve had, I’ve felt an inclination to speak towards social justice, climate change, black lives at stake—and so much of the time I feel as though I’m speaking into the wind. But does that mean we should neglect the elephants in the room? How do I turn towards joy, well, joyfully, when I see smoke in mirrors alongside it?

I don’t have answers. But other ways adultness has been manifesting—Jake spilled something on his new shirt, and I smoothly pull a Tide to Go pen out of my purse. A student gets a paper cut, and I firmly wrap a Band-Aid around it without flinching. Ethan collects mystery and magic in the woods—and I find doll heads, insect skeletons, and dragon eggs (/acorn bottoms) lurking in dark corners of my purse. I wrestle the comforter into the duvet. I stand in line at CVS and consider—damn, this would be a good place for a café. I seek farmer’s market stands for a perfectly oblong watermelon and stalks of rhubarb for my mother-in-law. I jot down appointments and gift reminders and birthdays on a literal whiteboard, and I call the dentist and the pediatrician, even when I don’t want to. I used to housesit for a poet in Pittsburgh, and I was amazed at how many wet wipes she had, how many matchbooks she kept. I wanted to be just like her one day. And I suppose the answers are sitting in my Mary Poppins bag, or written across my whiteboard–the ability to think ahead for those other than myself (a chocolate bar would be nice). 

Among all these very practical realities, I sometimes experience the surreal. Ethan, you give me this gift. A warm summer rain lulls you to sleep on the couch, and I tuck you in with our blanket which looks like Santa’s coat, with an underbelly of cat-fur like fleece. Your father and I eat dinner silently, knives scraping against plates, as I eat my perfect fajitas. I sense you shifting on the couch, and you cry my name out, arms stretched wide—and I see that your eyes are still closed, in a dream world. Your head is sweaty so I blow on it to cool you off. Later, I eat a chocolate mug cake and get more ink up my arm. 

I’m reminded of the sleepy dreams of my childhood, where I’d quickly peek out of one eye to see if my parents were still there and feel so safe knowing that our house and hearts were full. As Jake once told me, there will always be a series of lasts. When the day passes that is the last day we pick up Ethan to hold, will we remember it? Or will it just be another day? 

love, mama

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